Erica Ayala has been affiliated with the Children’s Defense Fund since 2006, the first year she served as a Servant Leader Intern at the Grace CDF Freedom School® program site, located in Mount Vernon, New York. She has since served as an Ella Baker Trainer for CDF Freedom Schools program, helped organize the YALT® regional delegation for CDF-Minnesota’s 10-10-10 Project and served on the YALT Youth Advisory Council. Before taking on her new role managing youth development programs at CDF-New York, she worked on the CDF-New York’s youth justice portfolio in the Bronx and Brooklyn as a project consultant. Ms. Ayala has also worked with Buffalo Wild Wings as a Training Manager and Community Outreach Coordinator. In 2008, she received a degree in Political Science from Elon University. Ms. Ayala is now an MPA candidate at New York University Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service.
Patti Banghart joined CDF-New York to promote a coordinated and effective infrastructure for early care and education in New York. She brings a strong background in policy research to CDF-NY. Prior to joining CDF-NY, Ms. Banghart was a Research Associate at the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, where she conducted implementation and evaluation studies of early childhood programs; coordinated publications on various topics in early care and education as part of a technical assistance project of the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation of the Administration for Children and Families; and examined children’s mental health policies, including for young children in the child welfare system. She was also a Research Associate at the Urban Institute where she studied child care subsidy policies, participated in an evaluation of the Enhanced Home Visiting project of Early Head Start, and helped evaluate independent living programs for youth in foster care. Ms. Banghart holds a Master of Science degree in social work from Columbia University’s School of Social Work.
Lorraine Gonzalez has been working in the arena of public health for the past 11 years, focusing on initiatives to provide access to affordable, quality health care for children and families, while ending racial and ethnic disparities in the health care system. In her role as the Director of Health Policy of the Children’s Defense Fund-New York (CDF-NY), shee leads the office’s policy analysis, advocacy, technical assistance, outreach and education efforts around ensuring access to affordable, quality health care for all children in New York State. Prior to her role at CDF-NY, Ms. Gonzalez managed public health coalitions, social service programs, and mental health services at The Children’s Aid Society and The Institute for Family Health. She is a former Board Member of the New York City Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and an active, current member of the New York State Coalition for School-based Health Centers.
Olga Gonzalez started her career in the Office of the Manhattan Borough President. When David Dinkins was elected mayor, she transitioned to a position with his newly created Mayor's Office for Children and Families, where she worked until being asked to serve as the mayor's secretary — a position she held through the remainder of his term and into the next administration. Drawing upon her public sector experiences supporting efforts to ever better serve New York's children and families, Ms. Gonzalez joined CDF-NY in 1994 as one of the office's first employees and currently serves as Sr. Manager of Administration. She is responsible for office operations and manages all of CDF-NY's grants, financial accounts, HR and IT responsibilities.
Melanie Hartzog leads the Children’s Defense Fund-New York (CDF-NY) office and efforts to support the organization’s mission through development, policy priorities and managing operations. Recently, CDF-NY – in partnership with advocates, civil rights and faith leaders, activists and law enforcement –launched the Raise the Age New York campaign to call upon the State to end the practice of prosecuting youth as adults when they turn 16 years old. As a result of CDF-NY’s leadership in this effort, Ms. Hartzog was appointed to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Commission for Youth, Public Safety and Justice, and charged to develop a comprehensive plan to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York. She also serves as a member of New York City’s Community Schools Advisory Board, where she is responsible for the development of a strategic plan for the Citywide Community Schools initiative. In addition, Ms. Hartzog’s active involvement in the nationwide My Brother’s Keeper movement to support boys and young men of color is helping municipalities and community-based organizations develop and execute action plans to level the play field for young men of color.
Prior to joining CDF-NY, Ms. Hartzog served as the Family Services Coordinator in the New York City Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services where she helped increase collaborations across multiple agencies to enhance city-provided services to children, youth and families. She was also Project Director for the Young Men’s Initiative, an innovative public/private partnership aimed at reducing disparities between the economic and social outcomes of young men of color and other demographic groups in New York City.
Previously, in her role as Deputy Commissioner for Early Childhood Services at New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services, Ms. Hartzog advocated for, designed and implemented initiatives to maximize utilization of child care resources and to increase efficiency and access to quality subsidized child care, and played a vital role in the release of the City’s EarlyLearn NYC procurement in 2011. She also led a social services unit in the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. Before entering city government, Ms. Hartzog served as the Director of Policy for the Human Services Council of New York City.
Melanie Hartzog holds a Master of Science degree from New School’s Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy, and a Bachelor of Arts from Eckerd College. She, her husband and three children live in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.
Andrew Leonard joined CDF-NY as a Senior Health Policy Associate in December 2013 and brings with him a background in health care policy for special populations. Before joining CDF-NY, Mr. Leonard worked with Harlem United Community AIDS Center and the New York City Providers of Health Care for the Homeless to improve access to care for people living with HIV/AIDS and those experiencing homelessness. Additionally, he served as an intake and outreach worker for a federally funded Health Care for the Homeless program in Mobile, AL. Mr. Leonard earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the New York University's Wagner School of Public Service and a BA from Boston College.
Samantha Levine joined CDF-NY as Communications Director and is a veteran of Mayor Bloomberg’s press shop, where she served as the Deputy Press Secretary overseeing New York City’s health and human service agencies. Ms. Levine also served as the Director of the New York City Girls Project: a citywide, multi-agency girls’ self-esteem and body image campaign. She launched a similar successful campaign in Washington, DC. Since leaving city government, Ms. Levine has worked at The Brooklyn Hospital Center and consulted for Tina Brown Live Media/Women in the World. Prior to joining city government she was Director of Marketing and Media Relations at NARAL Pro-Choice New York where she handled communications strategy and media campaigns on women's health and rights. Ms. Levine holds a Master of Art degree in Cinema Studies from New York University and a Bachelor of Art degree from Tufts University.
Elizabeth Powers recently joined Children’s Defense Fund New York as the Senior Juvenile Justice Policy Associate. Ms. Powers comes to CDF-NY by way of The Legal Aid Society where she worked as a forensic social worker alongside attorneys representing children in New York City’s Family Court in both Brooklyn and the Bronx. Most recently, she worked on class action law suits on behalf of children in the Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice systems as part of The Legal Aid Society’s Special Litigation and Law Reform Unit. Ms. Powers earned her Master’s in Social Work degree from Fordham University in 2008, specializing in research. She completed her Master’s thesis as an intern for the Department of Health, analyzing a pilot mental health treatment modality for inmates held in punitive segregation at Rikers Island. Ms. Powers is an active volunteer in her community, and for the past five years has volunteered for Right Rides, providing free late night safe rides home to women and members of the LGBT community. She is also an active volunteer and core member of Earth Matter, an environmental non-profit dedicated to reducing the waste stream in New York City.
Daniel Tejada grew up impoverished in East New York, Brooklyn. The momentum started swinging his way when he was awarded the Beat the Odds scholarship. After that, he was accepted to Skidmore College’s Higher Education Opportunity Program. At Skidmore, He founded Hip Hop Alliance to spark discussions on racism, sexism and homophobia. He majored in American Studies while focusing diverse cultures. A few years after college, he co-authored Different Families, Still Brothers which showcase the benefits of mentoring. It contains two years’ worth of email exchanges between him and his mentee while they were in the iMentor program. Mr. Tejada started his college access career with Pace University’s Liberty Partnerships Program. While serving as a Site Coordinator in the program, he helped students with their college essay, list, resume and build social skills. He also started a young men’s group in the program to have discussions on what it means to be a man, having productive friendships and relationships. Within the past few years, he has presented at the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling Conference and served on College Access Consortium of New York’s scholarship and communication committees. As he returns to CDF-NY on the other side of the desk, he’ll be using his college access skills and Beat the Odds alumni experience to help Beat the Odds scholars and alumni get to the next level.